Last weekend I spent a day set-up at the Philadelphia Alternative ComicCon. My first time having a table at any kind of comic event. I thought I’d write a bit about the experience, to try to parse out how I really felt about the whole thing and see what I learned. If you just want to read about the comics I got go here.
Since most of my work is online only, when I decided I’d try exhibiting, I didn’t have much in the way of print comics to show. I had copies of my 20 Out of 30 Days print-on-demand issues and a handful leftover minicomics from a few years ago, but that didn’t amount to much. So I decided I’d make a bunch of minicomics for the event. I ended up with the Three Minis Wrapped in a Micro set. I’m pretty happy with the results (though I wish the DeChirico one were drawn better), so in that respect, the con as a source of minicomic making motivation was a success. I also worked up a minicomic of my “Flying Chief” piece from the Abstract Comics anthology, since I figured most people haven’t read the book and many might be intrigued enough to check out a small segment of it. As a way to plug my website I also got a bunch of tiny Moo cards made featured 10 different cropped images from my comics. Those turned out really nice, too.
I’ve got a good day job, so this wasn’t about trying to make money, or even trying to break even, I was just hoping to get some comics out there, so I priced my comics fairly cheap, rounding up the cost of the comic to the next dollar. In retrospect, I think I should have priced them even cheaper and just gone with the “losing money in favor of exposure” proposition.
I made a bunch of signs on orange paper that gave the comics name, format, price, and a really brief description, so people might have an idea of what they were. I also brought along a copy of the Abstract Comics anthology for people to browse and a copy of the print-on-demand book of Things Change (with a note that the whole thing can be downloaded free online.
The con was in the Rotunda, a community center like place near the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia. There was a full house of tables filling the room. It was hot and stinky in there (of course! it’s a comics show), but I was extraordinarily lucky enough to be the guy literally sitting in front of what I think was the only air conditioner in the room. I stayed cool the whole day and didn’t even notice the smell. (Thanks, Pat for that location!)
When I go to cons I always hate the feeling of passing by a table and seeing a desperate looking artist looking up at me hoping I’ll look at or (after I look at) buy their work. I didn’t want to have that desperation. I don’t think I did. I tried to chat with people who actually picked up work. Telling people that my abstract “Spill” comic is images taken from the oil spill video feed seemed to garner interest. As did the Abstract Comics anthology (a few people either had it and loved it or were wanting to get a copy after seeing it). I think I had too much on my table and would, in the future, pare down the offerings to fewer items so that people could more easily scan the table and focus on individual works. Setting out just my “20 Days”, “Three Minis”, and “Flying Chief” probably would have been the best way to go, with a copy of each for browsing and one spread open to a representative page.
I didn’t end up selling a lot of comics. It made me realize how much my work is on the alternative side of “alternative” comics. I did trade a few, and I ended up giving out a couple to some people who seemed interested or who I thought might be interested. Though, again, not a lot of potential there either. So I’ve still got a lot of minicomics left. Which is either depressing or not depending on how much shelter I take in my sense of the aesthetic worth for my work, or how much ill I want to think of the attendee’s taste.
Comics shows are also about socializing, never my strong suit with people I don’t know (particularly in a face-to-face context). Limited success on that front, especially since I came to the show not really knowing any local comic artists (other than brief online interactions with a couple folks). I did participate in the comics jams that were going around the show: gridded out pages where each person fills in a panel. Luckily, I had a few sharpies in my bag to draw with.
One of the best parts of comics shows is finding new and interesting work. PACC was kind of a bust for me in that respect too. A lot of work that looked either conceptually or technically lacking. I had some other people tell me that too, so it’s not just me. The little interesting work that was there was stuff I’m already familiar with, like the publisher Secret Acres. I ended up buying only one comic, traded for a couple items, had one given to me, and found a couple things in my stuff when I got home (I guess they were dropped in the box under my table at some point, cause I don’t remember picking them up).
The first thing someone gave me when I walked around the show was “Make a One Page Book” by Claire Folkman (print out your own online), a single page photocopy that shows instructions on how to fold and cut the page into a small 8 page book (kind of like a lot of the little minis Warren Craghead makes). The part that really got me was that when you have the book made, the pages are… step-by-step instructions on how to take a piece of paper and make it into a little book. I love the self-referential aspect and the way the process leads into an invitation to create and perpetuate the process. Very clever. Looks like Folkman offers a lot of her webcomics in a pdf version for folding into a book. I tried this with my “Three Minis”, but mine really needed double-sided laser printing to get the right effect and not lose content in the margins (most printers won’t print as far to the margins as my comic required). This way’s simpler, if less refined.
The one book I bought was Dina L Kelberman’s Important Comics, which I’d seen online previously. It’s a small 42 page color book of small comics that I believe were originally sent out to Kelberman’s email list. The comics fail to impress narratively, conceptually, or thematically, they’re little absurdities or gags that aren’t particularly funny, primarily featuring geometric stick figures talking. Autobiographical origins seem to linger in the background of many of them, though you can’t say that any of the little figures really come through as characters or author stand-ins. So, while certain pleasures are not to be found here, Kelberman’s book caught my eye because of the materiality of the images. Aesthetically, this is a lovely book to just look at.
Most comics have a flat printed, two-dimensional, uni-media aesthetic, a historical necessity that has become not only traditional but also an aesthetic ground zero. Kelberman’s comics, on the other hand, look dimensional, textured. Comics in this collection appear on the back of receipts, on movie tickets, on paper cut into shapes, notebooks, and lined pieces of paper. Colors are made with pencil, marker, ink, paint, and crayon, colors that are vibrant and varied, often eschewing the convention of black line filled with color. The materiality of the comics is present in all these things and in whited-out patches of textured paint. The panels of the comics are often formed into shapes, or have a wide variety of border weight, type, or color. The lettering also takes part in this variety, from a conventional comic-y san-serif, to cursive script or large block letters that look ripped out of a notebook doodle.
Kelberman shows a lot of promise in this book, I hope she finds something interesting to do with what is clearly a great sense of design. I’ve already ordered her more recent series to see what she’s doing next. comics section, yes?).
Ian Harker, editor of the free comics newspaper Secret Prison, had the latest issue (#2) which I am in. I think it’s an improvement over issue 1, I guess he got more submissions this time, so he could be more selective. The cover and color feature are by Benjamin Marra, who I just don’t get the draw of, but I know people love his work, so that might attract some extra attention to the paper. I also got two of Ian’s comics, “The CIty” and “Rockbox”.
“Rockbox” is a larger comic printed in black on day-glow green paper and a yellow cover with a little rectangular red sticker on it reading: “Mangaka: Ian Harker”. That’s the front cover, until you realize he’s printed this like a manga (the “mangaka” is your clue) where one reads right to left. Flipping it over, a small slip of paper with reading instructions is inserted into the comic. Each page of the comic is done with the panels as if they were printed on a rectangular prism, the reader able to see two sides at once. You read through the comic first reading the panels on the right facet of the prism, then going back through again reading the panels on the left facet. It took me two tries to understand this. The first page only shows the the right facet and the last page only shows the left facet. In between the pages slowly shift from showing more of the right facet to showing more of the left facet. The facet that is less shown is more foreshortened, forcing Harker to make the panels starker and less informative. As such, he enforces a sense of rising and falling pacing, where the beginning the comic has larger panel with more information, the middle has smaller panels with less information, and then the end again has larger/more. The story itself is more like a scene from something larger, than much of a story. Golgo 13 (from the very famous manga) seems to be following a guy that looks like a robot (or he’s just a guy with odd taste in facial wear) who is checking into a hotel. Golgo 13 follows him upstairs, there is a shoot-out. Most interesting for the formal elements, both the structure of the pages/pacing and the way Harker has positioned the comic as a kind of minicomic manga.
“The City” is a small square comic that reads like a chapter of Moebius’ The Airtight Garage as drawn by Gary Panter and Ron Rege featuring another Golgo 13-esque character. The story is minimal, again, more scene than story. It’s starts in media res and action follows action, ending in a page of abstraction rather than any conventional resolution. The comic is interesting as long as it takes you to read, but not longer, and I wonder if the draw for Harker is more about the process than the product. “The City” is a later work than “Rockbox” and you can see in the comparison how much his drawing, line, and compositions have advanced in the time.
Harker’s single page piece in Secret Prison #2 continues with the Golgo 13 theme. This time the page is designed as a series of stacked cubes with panels on them. The panels seem almost randomly sequenced, but can be pieced together as a kind of ur-plot of how I imagine Golgo 13 stories go: guns, women, smoking, assassination, sex. The art is all angles and straight lines, which inside the cubed panels really flattens out the whole page, adding to a greater sense of abstract design as would not be achieved if the cubed straight panels contained a more curved and lush drawing (which would not work as well, I think).
And that’s it.
Overall, I’m not sure it was worth the trouble, time, or money. I’m probably better off just walking around giving out comics than sitting in one place trying to sell them. That’s what the internet’s for, right?